Archives for category: animals

Cover illustration ©Jon Mitchell

Recently I’ve been doing some research about red squirrels for a new book. Despite having lived in Scotland for 25 years, I have never actually seen a red squirrel in the wild. They are the only squirrels native to Britain, but unfortunately someone thought it would be a good idea to bring a few grey ones from North America in the 1870s. The grey squirrel is larger and hardier, and competes with the red for food. As a result, over the past 150 years the red squirrel population has suffered, and now there are 15 grey squirrels in Britain for every red one. No wonder they are hard to spot!

Red squirrels are very pretty, with tufty ears and white tummies. My new rhyming story is about two young ones who are venturing out into the forest for the first time. I did a little Googling and found this adorable photo:

Photo ©AP

The first ten weeks of a red squirrel’s life are spent in a drey, which is a nest built in the fork of a tree with twigs, moss, leaves and dried grass. Sometimes these dreys are communal, shared by a group of squirrels at different times.

Photo ©wildwoodtrust.org

In my story the two baby squirrels, Rowan and Hazel, set off down their tree to explore the forest nearby. Naturally, they wander further than they should and run into a few scary creatures, including a hungry fox!

I had to find out exactly what red squirrels eat, and the Wildwood Trust website is a great source of information. Red squirrels live in forests with both conifer and deciduous trees, and their main source of food is hazelnuts and seeds from conifer cones. They also eat berries, flowers, green shoots and mushrooms. To ensure they have food to eat in the winter, they bury nuts in the woodland floor, and hang mushrooms up in the trees to dry for later use.

My little squirrels get distracted by all the tasty food they find, and soon are lost in the forest. One of the clues they use to get home again is a mushroom that Hazel has nibbled. This is a Scottish story because most of the red squirrels found in the UK today live in Scotland. The Wildwood Trust says there are about 160,000 red squirrels across the country. Of those, about 120,000 live in Scotland, 30,000 live in northern England and 10,000 in Wales. They have almost completely disappeared from southern England.

There are several organisations devoted to protecting the red squirrel, including the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. There are lots of ways to get involved if you want to help out.

I hope my new book will raise awareness about the red squirrel. I have found two lovely toy squirrels to take with me when I visit schools, but I hope we’ll never reach a time when they are the only kind left.

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thunderbird

The Thunderbird, ©JK Rowling and ©Warner Bros Pictures

Newt Scamander is on a mission. The central character of JK Rowling’s new film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is passionate about protecting rare and special creatures that are threatened because of their magical powers. He has created a sanctuary for a collection of amazing animals, ranging from the enormous Thunderbird and the galumphing Erumpent to the tiny, leafy Bowtruckle that lives in his breast pocket.

These creatures have qualities of many animals we recognise.  The first creature we see, a Niffler, is very like a platypus with soft fur and a duck-like beak. It has magpie tendencies as it can’t resist shiny things and collects them in its pouch. The Demiguise is a grey, long-haired ape similar to the Japanese macaque. The Erumpent is like a glowing, inflated rhinoceros. There are blue, snake-like creatures and something that looks like a cross between a lion and a blowfish.

beast-guide

A guide to some of the beasts, ©www.telegraph.co.uk

Newt is determined to save as many of these creatures as he can, and he gathers detailed  information about their characteristics, behaviour and habitats to put in his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Above all, he wants to protect them from being destroyed by thoughtless and sometimes cruel humans who mistakenly believe they are dangerous.

Does this sound familiar? Here in the real world we have all sorts of beautiful and amazing creatures that are being threatened in the same way. Compared to humans they have incredible powers: of flight, super strength, powerful vision, amazing agility and speed. They have adapted perfectly to their environments, and are often portrayed by humans as posing a terrible threat to us. In reality, we are the ones who threaten their existence, and now an ever-lengthening list of these fantastic beasts is endangered.

wwf-white-rhino

Photo @www.worldwildlife.org

Like the Erumpent, the black rhino in Africa is critically endangered as a result of habitat loss and poaching. They and other species of rhino are being protected in sanctuaries in Africa and Asia, but there are still very few that live in the wild. Organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund have worked for decades to raise awareness of endangered animals.

wwf-giant-panda

Photo ©www.worldwildlife.org

Despite their universal appeal and worldwide fame, giant pandas are very rare. These were the first animals to be protected by the World Wildlife Fund since its inception in 1961. Happily, the giant panda has moved from being ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ as numbers of the animals in the wild increase.

There are so many endangered animals that we take for granted. Most of us only ever see such amazing creatures in zoos or on television, but without some effort being made to save them, we may not have gorillas, tigers, orang-utans or elephants for future generations of humans to learn about and appreciate. I hope the passion and determination of Newt Scamander will inspire fans of all fantastic beasts to look after them while we still can.

Twitter is a wonderful way to make new friends. Recently a head teacher I follow drew my attention to a knitted puffin that a Glasgow teacher had put up on Twitter. She thought it looked very like one of the characters of my puffin books, Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero.

Knitted puffin by Susan Quinn.

Knitted puffin by Susan Quinn.

I was impressed, and wondered if Susan the clever knitter would be able to create a fluffy grey puffling to go with me on school and nursery visits when I’m reading my new puffin story, Skye the Puffling. Through Twitter I was able to chat to Susan about what Skye should look like, and show her the lovely illustration by Jon Mitchell:

Skye coverSusan immediately set to work, and soon I was able to see my little puffling taking shape! Not being a knitter myself, I was baffled by the complex knitting instructions she seemed to be following. A fluffy little grey thing began to emerge…

knitting-skye-1Next she sent me a little bird shape and I could imagine a very cute, fluffy puffling who looked soft and snuggly:

knitting-skye-2Finally, Susan sent me a picture of Skye with eyes and a beak, with the message, “only the feet to add.” Little Skye was soon finished, and Susan and I agreed to meet up so I could repay her with three copies of my puffin books.

knitting-skye-3My fluffy Skye has already come with me to a Bookbug Library Challenge event at Drymen Library, and she was very well received! I’ve got another event tomorrow at Alloa Library, and Skye will be coming with me again, to be sure.

fluffy-skyeI was very touched by Susan’s generosity, and it was a real pleasure to meet her for a chat as we exchanged puffins. Many thanks to Joyce Hawkins who first alerted me to Susan’s impressive knitting talents!

Cute knitted cactus plants I spotted at fnac bookshop in Barcelona.

Cute knitted cactus plants I spotted at fnac bookshop in Barcelona.

While I was on holiday in Spain another knitted item caught my eye. It was a pair of soft and squishy cactus plants with brilliant care instructions: “Cactus of extremely slow, almost imperceptible growth. Easy to care for, simply give abundant morning smiles.” As my daughter is a huge cactus fan, I took a photo of them to show her. I’m glad I did, as it meant I could show the same photo to Susan. I thought she could easily knit a cactus and find a pot for it, and sure enough, she had already done it!

Susan Quinn's cactus.

Susan Quinn’s cactus.

It seems there is no end to what you can do with knitting needles! Susan is already thinking about Christmas…

squinn-tree

I will let you in on a little secret. That photo I use at the top of my blog was taken some years ago on the isle of Iona. It’s a beautiful place which I have visited several times, and each visit is special.

Lynne and Anna IonaNow you can see the whole picture, including my daughter who was about eight at the time. She is now almost twenty and a few inches taller than I am!

I use another photo of Iona on my Twitter account. This one shows my son (now seventeen) walking along the road across the island to a big beach on the western side.

Cam on IonaRecently I was invited to come back to Iona as part of the Summer Gala Fun Day on the island. Apparently my puffin picture books are very popular there, so the people who run the Martyrs Bay Shop kindly asked me to do some storytelling and book signing for them. Naturally I had to accept!

Photo ©Lindsey Fraser

Photo ©Lindsey Fraser

In the run-up to the event I was delighted to see a poster up in the shop window, kindly supplied by my publisher, Floris Books. The shop has a special puffin corner, and this was where my three puffin books were prominently displayed!

Photo ©Lindsey Fraser

Photo ©Lindsey Fraser

On Saturday I read stories with a lovely little girl from Cork, Ireland. She was full of story ideas of her own, too! Then I spoke to a number of tourists from England, Australia and America, and signed books for all their grandchildren.

Iona book signingOn Sunday I had a very enthusiastic crowd of small children, parents, grandparents and a few dogs! We read all three books and then the children were each allowed to choose one. It was interesting to see which book appealed to which child. Some already had Harris the Hero at home, and many were surprised to hear that Lewis Clowns Around was the first book.

I had a lovely time meeting people from all over the world, and I think the children enjoyed it too. The warm and friendly staff at Martyrs Bay Shop made the whole experience a great pleasure, so many thanks to all of them!

Iona rowboatIn between storytelling sessions, my husband and I wandered around the island taking photos of the beautiful scenery. We walked the same road as my son to the other side of the island, and my husband actually went swimming in that clear but c-c-c-cold water!

Iona footpathI preferred to stay on dry land, and while I was sitting on the beach I saw a long black animal run past across the sand. (I thought it was a weasel or a stoat or something, but then I heard a woman say, “Did you see that mink?”) I’m always spotting weird wildlife when I go on holiday…

Iona east beachThe beach was beautiful, and almost deserted. When we got back to our hotel (the Argyll) we enjoyed relaxing in the sunshine out in their garden. It looks out on the water between Iona and Mull and has lots of wooden benches bleached by the sun.

Iona boatsSuch a lovely view to look out on! It’s hard to imagine a more relaxing holiday. I do hope they’ll invite us back next year!

Iona LandM

 

Skye cover

When the main character of your picture book is a baby puffin who grows up, you’ve got a bit of a problem. Skye the puffling starts as a fluffy little grey thing and ends up looking just like her parents. This gradual transformation made it tricky for the illustrator, Jon Mitchell, who had to think about the children reading the book who might not recognise Skye from beginning to end. He must have done quite a bit of puffin research:

grey puffling

Photo ©Saeheimar, Iceland Monitor

After the grey fluffy stage, pufflings start to grow proper feathers and the fluff falls off. This process of molting lasts some time and makes them look rather odd. Perhaps it’s no surprise Jon decided not to show Skye in this in-between phase!

Before it becomes a fully-grown puffin, the ‘teenage’ puffling is a dark grey and white, and it hasn’t yet got its brightly coloured beak and feet. In time the black-and-white colouring becomes more pronounced and the oranges and blues start to appear.

puffin teen D Melville

Photo ©Dawn Melville (from http://www.Puffinpalooza.com)

My favourite illustration from Skye the Puffling is a sweet portrait of the teenage Skye, who is gradually turning black-and-white like her parents. Jon Mitchell used watercolours to great effect here:

baby puffin

Illustration ©Jon Mitchell, from Skye the Puffling.

You can see that fluffy grey pufflings look very different from their parents, and they are not unusual in that way. Lots of cute baby animals grow up with quite surprising results! Here is another baby bird who is not only a different colour from his mum and dad, but also quite a different shape:

Can you guess what kind of bird he is? You might be able to tell from two clues. One is his beak, which is starting to curve like his parents’ and has a slight pink tinge. The other is the fact that he is standing on one leg. Have you figured it out?

flamingo mum

He’s a flamingo! It will take another two or three years for his feathers to turn pink, as a result of the food he eats. His beak will continue to grow in a curve and will develop black markings at the tip. Look how much growing his little stumpy wings will have to do!

Here is another baby animal that looks quite different from his parents. He is covered in stripes and spots so as to blend in with his natural surroundings (a forest with dappled sunshine):

He is much smaller than his mum and comes from Brazil in South America. Do you know what he is?

He’s a tapir. When he gets bigger his stripes will disappear and he’ll turn a pale grey all over. Tapirs look a bit like pigs but are actually related to horses, donkeys and rhinos. There are several different types of tapir and some are black with a white back. A tapir like that is the star of a new children’s book called Mango & Bambang The Not a Pig by Polly Faber and illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. It looks like a lovely book and is part of a series, so Bambang the tapir has all sorts of interesting adventures!

Here is one more baby animal that looks quite different from his parents. You might be able to guess what he is by his colouring:

baby panda

Photo ©Smithsonian National Zoo

He is very tiny compared to what he will be when he grows up. He will also get a lot more fur, so he won’t look like a little fuzzy pink eraser forever. He doesn’t look very fierce yet, but one day those claws will be big and scary. Can you guess what he is?

panda and mum

Photo ©Toronto Zoo

He’s a panda bear! Perhaps you guessed because of his little black ears and the black circles on his eyes. In this picture with his mum you can see he has grown quite a bit, but he still has a long way to go. Pandas come from China but they can be found in zoos around the world. We have two pandas in the Edinburgh Zoo that were a gift from the Chinese government. The zoo’s website has a PandaCam where you can see what the pandas are doing. You can also watch the penguins and the spider monkeys. I am writing this late at night, so when I looked it was dark and quiet. I guess everyone was sleeping!